Excerpts from full remarks:
The recent history of the Americas has proven how important democracy is to reinforcing economic progress, social inclusion, human rights, and peace setting a powerful example to countries everywhere undertaking their own political opening and democratization. As President Obama remarked in Cartagena, “You do business well when you know that it’s a well-functioning society and that there’s a legitimate government in place that’s going to be looking out for its people.” While we deepen regional and sub-regional groupings, the countries of the Americas must never retreat from our hemisphere’s exemplary commitment to democracy. We should not use regional harmony as an excuse to lower democratic standards and commitments. Instead, governments and citizens should work in unison to protect democracy in the hemisphere, speak out forcefully whenever our democratic values are challenged, and strive continually to improve our democratic performance.
Many of you in this room are experts on the economic and political rise of the Western Hemisphere, and have helped to bring it about. Countries in the region have made remarkable progress toward consolidating democratic rule, promoting sound economic management, and encouraging greater government responsiveness and accountability. Over the last 15 years, the middle class in Latin America and Caribbean has swelled to over 275 million people. That is almost half of the population, and it is projected to reach as much as 70 percent by 2030. Over the next five years, the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean are projected to expand by one-third. Now we all know that this progress remains uneven, and some notable exceptions persist, but on balance, the Americas today are more prosperous, freer, and better governed than at any other point in history.
Drawing on a shared past, the Americas have before us a bright, shared future. But it is not one that we can take for granted. Across the hemisphere, our citizens are demanding better jobs, improved social services, responsible economic management, and the freedom to live as they choose. It is the challenge of governments to be up to the task, by partnering with the private sector and civil society, demanding greater accountability from our public institutions, and working to move beyond old ideological debates to grasp our common future together.
The fundamental point I want to leave with you this morning is a message of optimism, a message about hope and possibility, a message about what the United States and the countries of the Americas can accomplish in our hemisphere and around the world when we focus on common goals and shared values. If we can deepen consensus in our hemisphere behind open, free, transparent, and fair economic competition, coupled with a commitment to democracy and social inclusion – then that will not only benefit our citizens here at home, but also will continue to show the world that free societies and open markets remain the best prescription for human progress and development.
I want to congratulate the Council of the Americas again for this very important event. Thank you all for all that you do to bring the people and governments of our hemisphere closer together.